Casino Express changes name, flies in a different direction

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HENDERSON, Nev. -- The specialized airline that has operated as Casino Express since 1991 is gambling on a new strategy.

The Nevada-based carrier, whose corporate name is TEM Enterprises, filed an application with the Department of Transportation for rights to fly from the U.S. to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico under the name Xtra.

Scheduled service would be offered on 737 aircraft from Orlando and Atlanta to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic and to Cancun from Atlanta, Memphis and Orlando.

The airline said it is working with a large travel agency, which it did not identify, that desires to promote this operation and is helping to defray the costs of initiating the service.

In addition to support from the travel agency, TEM Enterprises got a boost from foreign investment. Iceland-based Avion and Merkur, owned and controlled by Icelandic citizen Magnus Thorsteinsson, owns 25% of the voting shares and 49% of the total stock. Both percentages are the maximum allowed under U.S. law for foreign ownership in U.S. airlines.

When doing business as Casino Express, the airline operated domestic scheduled service and domestic and foreign charters, primarily to serve the needs of the hotel and casino operations in Elko, Nev. The former parent of Casino Express, McClaskey Enterprises, started the airline as a way to bring more customers to Elko, where McClaskey owns casinos.

But when the ownership of the company was transferred in the summer of 2005 to a group that included some of the airlines management, the new owners decided to broaden the airlines scope to make it a profit-generating, commercially driven operation, TEM Enterprises told the DOT.

Theyll have to hope it pays off: McClaskey has decided that chartering the Casino Express flights is no longer worth the cost and ended the service on Feb. 1.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].

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